Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is distancing himself from his libertarian dad, Ron Paul, as he attempts to bounce back as a potential presidential candidate following his controversial support last week for voluntary vaccinations.
Like his father, the senator leans toward libertarian policies. But he appears to be taking on a more moderate stance as a competitive GOP race for the White House looms with possible candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the middle and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the right.
"I think I need to present my message, and it needs to be my message," Rand Paul told The New York Times
. "I doubt Jeb Bush is going to be using his dad. I don’t think you’ll see George W. Bush out on the trail for Jeb Bush because Jeb Bush needs to be his own candidate."
Over the weekend, Paul visited the early presidential nominating state of Iowa after he stirred outrage by embracing the notion that parents should be the ones to decide whether their kids should be vaccinated
, despite the recent measles outbreak spreading to 14 states.
"Everybody is going to be a critic about something," said Paul, a physician-turned-politician. "I don’t wear the right clothes; my hair’s not great. You are who you are. You can spend your whole life worrying about too many little middling things."
His father, affectionately known as the "Old Man" by the son’s supporters, finished third in the Iowa caucuses during his failed 2012 run for the White House. And while Paul was in Iowa
seeking to build on his father's base, he was also hoping to go one step better by softening his libertarian views — at least for now.
"The son is a little more mainstream," said former Republican Rep. Jim Leach, who represented the state for 15 terms. "If he can stay there and play into the desire on the conservative side for someone new, he could find an opening."
According to the Times, the senator was testing the waters in Iowa, where he met privately with the state’s Republican Party chairman and then headlined an "Audit the Fed" event at a chic wine bar in a vineyard on the edge of Des Moines.
When his dad ran in 2008 and 2012, his Iowa rallies were crammed with beer and blue jeans types. But this weekend's gathering consisted of 150 young professionals still wearing jackets and ties from work and sipping on white wine aged on the premises, the Times said.
As his possible 2016 bid gathers momentum, Paul faces the tricky task of reaching out to mainstream voters and skeptical conservatives, while converting affluent Democrats and independents and also maintaining the support of the libertarians who backed his dad and are willing to support the son, as long as he stays the course.
"I’m impressed with the guy," said Richard Hohlt, a major GOP donor. "But the problem is, can he be like [Ronald] Reagan and say to the libertarian party, 'I’m going to run to win, and then I’ll come back to you and we’ll work together. Don’t trash me in the process because you know where I stand, and I’m the one guy you can trust.'"
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